What are the things you need to know if you want to help a teen with depression?
And what are the things to avoid when trying to help your son or daughter with their moods?
[Did you know our new booking platform connects you with teen therapists across the UK?]
12 Ways to Help a Teen With Depression
1. Don’t make it about you.
You might worry, and feel responsible. And without realising it you might then make your child’s issue about yourself.
It can be hidden in little comments like, “I guess I wasn’t a good parent then,” or “I guess you don’t like me enough to talk to me”. These sorts of barbed phrases push your child or teen even further away from wanting to share with you.
2. Don’t give advice or platitudes.
Often we do it without even realising it. We are telling our teen how to feel better, how to feel happy, we offer such snippets as ‘think positive’, ‘smile’. It’s all the opposite of listening. And each time we do it our teen shuts down that little bit more. As for the lectures, just don’t.
3. And yes, listen, capital L.
Most people think they are listening, when they actually never listen well.
Listening properly means you are putting all your attention on what the other person says. You are not waiting to tell your story, planning what to say next, or thinking about what you are doing later.
If you don’t understand what your teen says, don’t pretend you do. Reflect back, or ask for clarification.
Read our article on ‘How to Listen Like a Therapist‘ and you will be repairing your relationship with your teen in no time.
4. Ask good questions.
Yes, sometimes teens can get angry when questioned. But when you learn to ask the right questions you have a far better chance of having our teen open up.
For starters, avoid ‘why’ questions. To teens they can come across like a judgement call. and they also lead people to over think in ways that simply aren’t useful. ‘How’ and ‘what’ questions are far better. So ‘why are you depressed’ is an awful question. ‘What can I do to help, what does it feel like for you, how could we make your schedule less hectic’, these are far more useful.
5. Make self care easier for them.
Depression and anxiety are helped by good self care. Make sure your teen has access to healthy food, for starters.
If they show an interest in a form of sport, this is soothing to encourage and invest in. Exercise is proven to improve moods, and also gets your teen out of the house and socialising.
They will also need a lot of sleep. And the teenage brain can have very different sleeping patterns than others. So weekend lie-ins can be a good thing.
6. Take care of yourself.
Speaking of self care, are you setting a good example? If your self care is weak, if you are burnt out and tired, then you are not really going to be helping anyone.
And if you find your guilt over your teen’s depression is too much, or their depression is triggering your own mental health issues, do seek support.
[No time to travel to a therapy appointment? Book a Skype session on our new site and be talking to someone as soon as tomorrow.]
7. Have good boundaries.
You love your teen and you want to help them. But becoming a pushover and pandering to their every whim because you feel guilty is not actually helpful for you or them.
Model self respect and good boundaries. Be there for your teen, but also be there for yourself. If your teen is mean or asking for too much, let them know in a calm firm way. Then find a middle ground.
8. Keep the door open.
Your teen might reject your advances to talk often. Again, try not to take it personally. Adolescence is the time of development where we realise who we are as an individual. Teens can come across as abrasive as they learn how to set boundaries. Just remind them now and then the offer stands to talk when they need it, and that you are willing to help in ways they feel they need.
Note that communication and connection doesn’t have to be about words. Just doing things together or being together in silence can also give your teen a sense of support.
9. Spend time together.
Teens often resist spending time together because parents don’t consider what they might enjoy doing.
Instead of telling them what you’d like to do together, ask for their input. Ideally spend time together at least weekly, even if it’s just making dinner together.
Of course there is no need to lose your own boundaries here. Don’t bend to whatever your teen wants to do if you don’t approve. Find something between you that you can enjoy.
10. Respect their privacy.
Yes, having a depressed or anxious teen can make a parent anxious themselves. And yes, it’s normal to talk to your partner, or to a family member your teen is close to.
But teens are more sensitive then most about their privacy and are quick to feel betrayed. Telling the aunt they don’t like, or all your friends who are parents of their friends, maybe not.
And if they tell you something and ask you not to tell anyone, unless they are breaking the law or their wellbeing is in danger, respect their privacy. Of course if you share everything with your partner, make sure they know that what they share will be told to your other half. You do, remember, need to keep your own boundaries.
11. Get your child appropriate support.
Even if your teen only seems moderately depressed it’s an idea to offer to help him or her find some counselling. Remember, teens hide things. So your teen might be feeling worse than they let on.
Of course suggesting to someone they need therapy can be a tricky conversation. Do read our article on “How to Tell Someone They Need Therapy” so you don’t turn them off the idea.
If your son or daughter is so depressed they don’t even want to go to the therapist’s office, ask if they would like to try Skype therapy. Or find a therapist who offers mixed therapy, meaning your teen can do some sessions in person and others over the internet.
If your teen isn’t interested in therapy at first (they might be very interested, but just annoyed it came from you) let them know the offer stands when they want it. Give them a budget to work in if they want to choose their own therapist. You can also give them a list of free helplines they can call otherwise.
If you really feel that you suggesting therapy will backfire, and there is another family member who might want to step in and suggest it, that’s a great idea.
12. Make sure your teen has a say in their treatment.
The worse thing you can do is book a therapy session without him or her knowing, or trick them into going, or try to push them to take antidepressants if they don’t want to. Nobody responds well to manipulation. Treat your teen with respect, and the way you yourself would like to be treated. Include them in their treatment plan.
Harley Therapy connects you to some of London’s best therapists for teens. Not in London, or even the UK? Did you know that we now offer teen therapy, in person or via Skype, on our new booking site, www.harleytherapy.com?